“Do Not Track” requests are just that and only that, requests. And according to the Federal Communications Commission, they’re requests that don’t have to be, and often aren’t, honored. In a rather alarming admission on Friday, the FCC said that it couldn’t force Internet companies, including giants and huge collectors of personal data like Google and Facebook, to stop tracking their users and their online behavior.
Consumer Watchdog has petitioned the FCC to make ignoring the “Do Not Track” setting a legal offense, but the government agency denied this request on Friday. “The Commission has been unequivocal in declaring that it has no intent to regulate edge providers,” the FCC wrote. “Edge providers” refers to companies that are online and use the Internet, but are not actually providing Internet connections. So, you know, just about every site ever, including all your social media networks. “We therefore find that the Consumer Watchdog Petition plainly does not warrant consideration by the Commission,” the FCC continued.
In a response to the decision, Watchdog’s Privacy Project director John Simpson expressed his discontent. “We believe the FCC has the authority to enforce Internet privacy protections far more broadly than they have opted to do and are obviously disappointed by this decision,” Simpson’s statement notes. “Requiring that ‘Do Not Track’ requests be honored is a simple way to give people necessary control of their information and is in no way an attempt to regulate the content of the Internet.”
The issue at hand is magnified by a recent study that suggests that nine out of 10 websites “leak user data to a third party and typically without the user having any knowledge of this.” In peer-reviewed research, University of Pennsylvania privacy researcher Tim Libert writes, “Sites that leak user data contact an average of nine external domains, indicating that users may be tracked by multiple entities in tandem.”
Speaking with Brian Merchant, Senior Editor at Motherboard, Libert added, “If you visit any of the top one million sites there is a 90 percent chance largely hidden parties will get information about your browsing. Most troubling is that if you use your browser setting to say ‘Do Not Track’ me, the explicitly stated policy of nearly all the companies is to flat-out ignore you.” And now, the FCC is letting them get away with it.
When taken in conjunction with recent findings that mobile apps are sharing just tons of your data, it may be pretty safe to say that the age of privacy is over. And the age of the advertisers has just begun.
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